The ball slithers about the rim, looping around the cylinder, before being spit out off the back iron. It floats nearly 11-feet above the restricted area, waiting for one of three white-uniformed giants to snatch it from the air. Unknown to the monsters down low, a crimson-clad foe has seen his opening, and it’s already too late.
No. 5 takes off several feet behind the restricted area, finding himself hovering in-between a triangle of adversaries with the orange orb in his possession. Briefly clutching the ball in both hands, the airborne Hoosier cocks it back with just his right before tomahawking it home, showing equal disregard for friend and foe.
He turns to gallop down to the other end court armed with a stoic face, leading onlookers to assume the perpetrator had done nothing out of the ordinary. The thing is, by Troy Williams‘ standards, he hadn’t.
Troy Williams came to Bloomington, Indiana, last season with lofty expectations. Recruiting website 247Sports had Williams labeled as the No. 53 prospect in the country on their composite ranking system, which averages industry ranks and ratings into a single comprehensive index.
In 2012, the 6-7 swingman transferred to Oak Hill Academy for his senior season, a perennial prep power that churns out quality products as if it were a mass production plant: Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Ty Lawson, Rajon Rondo, Josh Smith, Jerry Stackhouse. For each new class that dons the red and gold Gryffindor-style Oak Hill jersey, the history can be unnerving.
At these basketball boarding schools youngsters are expected to follow in the hallowed steps of legendary hardwood ghosts, but the foot prints at Oak Hill loom larger than any in the nation. Still, Williams’ embedded a sizable footprint of his own on the basketball-obsessed campus with an extraordinary senior year send-off: 16.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 2.0 blocks per game and a berth in the National High School Invitational.
Williams’ first season as a part of the storied Indiana basketball tradition was uneven, at best. The most important stat of the 2013-2014 season for the freshman was that he started all 32 games. On one of the youngest teams in the nation, that kind of experience is invaluable.
He scored five or less points eight times, and scored ten or more points just five times in 19 Big Ten games. It was the kind of erratic display that one might expect of a freshman, but not one with Williams’ pedigree and background.
Half of the problem can be attributed to Tom Crean not having enough confidence to fully uncage the crazed athleticism that Williams possesses, but the other half of the problem was that Williams just seemed lost at times, too willing to defer and, at times, too unwilling to unleash his true powers.
Williams has more untapped potential than any of the Hoosier holdovers still in Bloomington. Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell is a proven leader — the team will ride on his diminutive sub-six-foot shoulders all season long — and Stanford Robinson is an interesting case in his own right, but it’s No. 5 that can elevate this band of Hoosiers to a new level.
Williams is Assembly Hall’s version of Dominque (Wilkins, for any who are sadly unfamiliar with ‘Nique), a human highlight film with an ability to turn a reticent amphitheater into a raucous basketball rave with one Newton-defying act of gravitational disobedience. It’s one thing to be able to turn a game into a Rucker Park recreation for a few seconds, but entirely another to control the game and make meaningful contributions in other areas.
Williams, for all the attention given to his athletic prowess, is far more than a future dunk contest hustler. Despite his height and lean build, Williams was the second best rebounder on the Hoosiers last season, averaging 4.4 rebounds per game. With Vonleh gone, Williams is best returning rebounder on an undersized team. His ability to go up and grab a board on both ends of the court — No. 5 was also second on the team in offensive rebounds with 46 and eighth in the Big Ten in offensive rebounding percentage — will be crucial to a team lacking an experienced post presence.
Defensively, Williams has all the tools that comprise great wing defenders: length, athleticism, quick hands and lateral quickness. His decision-making was suspect last season, an issue that was less glaring than it could have been given the post presence of Noah Vonleh. With Vonleh outfitted in the resurrected Charlotte Hornets’ uniform this season in the NBA, defensive miscues will be more transparent.
For his part, Williams acknowledged his defensive shortcomings in an interview with IUHoosiers.com back in May:
“I also had a lot to learn about the game itself, things like different ways to play pick-and-roll defense or how to defend other screening situations,” Williams said. “That was the biggest adjustment for me.”
For all the ups and down Williams experienced last season, he closed on a powerful note. The capricious freshman finally settled down for the final three games of the year, averaging 15 points per game on a phenomenal 73 percent shooting, including his finest performance of the season: 16 points on 8-for-9 shooting in a heartbreaking four-point defeat in Ann Arbor to the Big Ten regular season champion Michigan Wolverines.
The Hoosiers endured a bipolar season, filled equally with hope and despair and outright frustration, but Williams’ tantalizing March performance left many in Bloomington with eyes dreamily transfixed on a bright future.
The late season run appears to have instilled a new sense of confidence in the high-flying sophomore sensation. Williams has been an aggressive menace on the Hoosiers’ current five game Montreal basketball excursion.
In four games against top-tier Canadian basketball teams, Williams has averaged 17.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 3.3 turnovers per game while shooting a very LeBron-esque 59 percent from the floor. He has led the Hoosiers in every significant statistical category for at least one game during the Hoosiers’ trek to the Great White North. The turnovers are disconcerting, but it’s difficult to chastise the 19-year-old too much during such an impressive run.
If this is the Williams Crean will be getting all year, a hardwood predator equipped with the haunting pure-white pupils of a Great White, devoid of mercy or remorse for its prey, Indiana can be so much more than a team merely capable of staying afloat in the ruthless Darwinian ecosystem of the Big Ten.
Troy Williams has made many leaps throughout his basketball career, but the one he makes this year will be the greatest he’s ever taken.